What is childhood really about? Is it about learning a language, achieving the perfect violin concerto, or playing goalie for a traveling soccer team? Or should it be about playing with the neighborhood kids learning how to naturally form teams, compromise on what game to play, and staying out until mom calls you into dinner?
I don’t know about you, but some of my best childhood memories are playing “ghosts in the graveyard” (aka hide-n-seek at night) until it felt like midnight outside (of course it was probably 9pm or 10pm but it felt pretty late) and playing a pick up H-O-R-S-E games at the neighborhood basketball goal and jumping on the neighbors trampoline for hours and riding our bikes all around town talking and laughing and practicing riding with no hands.
Do today’s children have these memories? Do we, as parents, have a responsibility not to just make sure they have the best education and well-rounded exposure to extra-curricular activities or do we have the responsibility to ensure they have a childhood? If we don’t protect our kids childhood, who will?
I’ll admit, I’m just as caught up on making sure my kids can read music, play an instrument, play a sport, and swim but recently we decided as a family that we needed to take a step back and make sure we were leaving plenty of time for just plain old play time.
So why do we put our children in so many extracurricular activities? Usually it’s because we want the best for our children. We want them to learn skills, develop confidence, and find at what they excel. However, there are ways to better do this than stressing out and overextending our kids.
Overscheduled children can become stressed and even resentful. They complete their school and then head to the car to be carted to this lesson and that practice. They leave their neighborhood staring out the car window at their friends riding bikes, building snow forts, or climbing trees. How excited do they remain for that lesson or practice?
It’s one thing to have something once or twice a week but when the child never has a free day, unscheduled time, to explore their thoughts, their interests, and just figure out who they are on their own, how will they ever know how to fill their unscheduled times as an adult?
Is there anything wrong with lots of activities? Well, that’s up to the individual parents and families; there are certainly children that still succeed with such overextended schedules. However, finding the right balance for your children to learn skills and develop talents as well as have time to rest, read, and play is equally important.
What’s the right number of activities to choose for your children so they are not overextend? This differs from child to child or family to family. Only you know what is best for your family and your children. Just be flexible, listen to their desires and, if they decide that they want to try something new, be open minded but sit down and talk to them about whether they want to do it in addition to what they are doing or maybe in replacement of something for a while. You may find your child is trying to tell you he or she is ready to abandon a previous love and move on to a new interest.
Being open minded to your child’s interest is important but, as the parent, it is your job to help them understand their choices and help them make the best choices for them as well as reminding them, and even sometimes making them, take some time to just go outside and play. They may be shocked at how relaxing and wonderful it is for them to not have anywhere to be to do anything in particular. Just play and have fun – that is what childhood should be about.
Do you think it’s important to limit your child’s extracurricular activities?